We just got back from Sun n Fun 2011 in Lakeland, Florida. It was quite a day. The forecast was to be a 20% chance of showers, but as usual, the weather man guessed poorly. You have probably heard by now, either from Twitter, Facebook or the National News media, that there was a major storm that hit the area, and we were in the thick of it.
When the storm hit, we were in the large, western-most vendor hangar. The wind, rain and lightning were just incredible. It started out with just some moderate rain, but almost instantly, the weather hit like a sledgehammer.
Despite speculations of numerous news reports, I do not think it was a tornado, but rather a huge micro-burst with straight line winds of 70-80 mph. The temperature dropped about 30 degrees within seconds. There were not any normal tell-tale signs of a tornado; neither noise nor identifiable damage path. The damage was much more widespread. Many of the outside vendor canopies are destroyed and tree limbs down. Cell service was spotty as everyone was on the phone letting family know they were alright, or pulling up radar to see if another cell was going to hit the area.
Even though there were many tents and canopies down, no permanent structures were damaged as far as I can tell. Soon after the leading edge of the storm hit, the power went out and never came back on during the time we were there. It was eerily quiet in the dark vendor hangars as people just watched the storm blow through. All the large main doors of the vendor hangars were closed to protect the people inside from flying debris.
There was a story making the early rounds in the media of 70 trapped people in a collapsed building. That was not true. We did hear of about 7 non-life threatening injuries.
After the storm abated, we ventured out. We could see about 20 planes that were damaged or destroyed, mostly in the static display area. Except for one Caravan, all the uprooted aircraft were very light, like Cubs and Huskys. There were also some damaged aircraft in the transient area but we could not get access to the camping area or the vintage area. The damaged planes we saw had all been tied down, but had either pulled up their stakes, or had snapped lines. Attendees were shocked at what they saw. There were a few muted conversations, but most stood in silence in the drizzling rain, taking pictures and videos of the damage.
Finally about 3 pm, the Police announced on the loudspeaker that Sun n Fun management had decided to shut the show down for the rest of the day. They closed the vendor displays and hangars, and literally kicked everyone out of the property. There is lots of repair work to be done.
Leaving SnF, the parking lots were a mosh pit. You will need to very careful not to get your car or aircraft mired in the ankle-deep muck if you are planning on attending, as the fields are saturated with water.
I am not sure if they will be able to open tomorrow or not. There is a massive cleanup effort underway overnight. Right now, there is simply too much debris and damage on-site to be safe. If you are going to Sun n Fun tomorrow, check first to see they will be open for business.
UPDATE 8:26 AM, 4/1: Sun n Fun management announced that they will be open on Friday 4/1. Be sure to check notams if you are flying in and be careful of the mud, whether you are flying or driving. Some news reports are now saying it was an F-1 tornado.
Here are some photos I took. Right click to open them in a new window.